“Right now, you f---er!”
“OK, OK, calm down.”
As soon as the young man stepped from the vehicle, the driver smashed his foot to the accelerator. The white car flashed in a semi-circle, dust flying up from the unpaved track, it screeched away towards the road.
THE day started before the sun came up. The vineyard was alive by six.
Caleb was the new guy, the youngest. He was fit and strong, but didn’t have the experience. He wasn’t as fast as others, but he was much quicker than most. He was tolerated, not bullied like some. While he tried to play a fair hand and not get caught up in the childish games, everyday he would find himself allying with one of the older guys and laughing as some other new kid couldn’t hack the pace.
He went home each night to his rented house in Cessnock and fell asleep much earlier than he expected. When he had first got the job at the winery he had eaten a lot of fast food, drank too much beer every night and woken feeling bloated and woolly headed most days.
Now he watched what he ate, tried to visit the 24-hour gym in town at least three times a week, and he slept well. He found that when his life was rounded out with good sleep, his nights were mostly black and dreamless, and he awoke refreshed.
The job had become his life, it was manual labour, it was hard, but it was challenging and it stopped him thinking of what he had left behind.
He had moved here from the city and while he had worried about the “country” folk, he found that he had little interaction with the locals. He visited the shops to buy his supplies, he smiled, said please and thank you when he needed to, he was a pleasant young man who did not stand out. He had truly hated the “induction” to the gym, despising the overly muscled guy who tried to get him to sign up to personal training.
The boss, the owner of the winery who also managed the place, was a nice guy. He knew pretty much everyone’s name and did the hiring and firing himself, in a decent way, and he was respected for it.
Once a month he put on a barbecue for his staff and supplied the drinks. The food was good, the leading hand, Geoff, had been a chef at one of the top restaurants in the region and he cooked a Friday afternoon barbecue that most menus in Newcastle couldn’t match. And the boss’s wine was good. Even the boys who didn’t drink wine were given decent beer.
All the workers were warned in advance not to drive on the day of those Friday get-togethers if they planned to have a drink. No one was going to be allowed to drive home under the influence. Cars were pooled and as an incentive not to do the wrong thing, the boss put on a mini-bus to get all his merry workers home.
Caleb had played it safe on his first Friday night do. He’d had three glasses of shiraz – a wine that he, unfortunately he thought, had not been involved in producing, it was from three years before. The wine had been great, the pork he had eaten was tender, rich and tasty – he felt indulged in a way his nightly dinner of greens and chicken or fish and salad didn’t leave him.
He’d appreciated the bus lift home. He could easily have joined some of the other guys who got dropped off at Harrigan's or another hotel in town. He thought he probably could have had a skinful, had a decent night, talked some nonsense and slept in the next day without worrying, but he didn’t. He just hadn’t felt like it.
But this week he’d overdone it. Guy had been one of the more experienced hands – he’d been around the country working in wine regions and could do just about any job that the community needed. And he was still relatively young, and charming. And chiselled and tanned. And Caleb had talked to him all night long as the drinks were poured. As the night moved in and the wide, cloudless sky opened up with a blackness made more extreme by the brilliance of the stars, they had shared something. Something Caleb avoided.
Until it was too much, there seemed more than just the summer heat between them. The talk wasn’t just stories and shared tales, it was flirting and seductive. Caleb remembered Guy offering him a lift home. He remembered getting in the car with trepidation, and an excited heat in his stomach. He remembered his hand straying on to Guy’s leg as he talked, resting his head on his shoulder and, when he realised Guy had stopped talking, turning to kiss the side of his mouth.
He remembered getting in the car with trepidation ...
CALEB walked slowly towards the road. The dust from the spinning wheels of Guy’s car was layering the back of his throat and stinging his eyes. He clenched his lids closed and tears seeped out, cleaning a trail down his grimy cheek.
The night air felt cold on the dampness. He was sobering up and feeling worse that he couldn’t go to work tomorrow and get the embarrassment over with, that he had to wait until Monday morning to face the jeers. Or worse, no joking or teasing, just stares, either incredulous or spiteful.
He knew they’d be there
Caleb looked up with surprise at the white car heading towards him. When it pulled up he kept walking.
He heard the door open.
“Caleb. I’m sorry … Please get in.”